Methods of Proof

A mathematics proof establishes the validity of a mathematics statement. Statements are assertions that can be broadly classified under two types: Existence statements and others. An existence statement asserts that objects with a given property exist. Here is an existence statement: Given two rational numbers, there is a rational number between them. An existence statement is proved in one of two ways. One way is to construct and exhibit the objects whose existence is postulated by the existence statement. This is called a constructive proof, which is a proof method. For instance, given two rational numbers a and b, we may consider the number (a+b)/2 and show that it is rational and lies between a and b - thus we have constructed a rational number lying between any two rational numbers. Clearly, constructions for some existence statements can be difficult and there are existence statements for which constructions are not known. A second way to prove an existence statement is by proving that the objects in question must exist. This is a non-constructive proof. A famous example of this is afforded by Cantor's proof of the non-denumerability of real numbers. Combining with his proof of the denumerability of rational numbers, it proves the existence of irrational numbers without actually constructing any irrational number. Nonconstructive proofs are also used for proving statements other than existence statements. In fact, these are the proofs used for proving statements other than existence statements. Here is the summary of what we have discussed so far: There are two kinds of proofs - constructive and nonconstructive. The only use of constructive proofs is in proving existence statements and sometimes it can be very difficult to find a constructive proof for a given existence statement. Nonconstructive proofs are used in proving statements other than existence statements; they are also used sometimes to prove existence statements. The remainder of this discussion will be about nonconstructive proofs. There are two kinds of nonconstructive proofs: Direct Proof and Indirect Proof. Before we discuss these, we shall explain a technique called "Conditional Proof" that can be used in both direct and indirect proofs. Since Conditional Proof is applicable in any proof, we shall consider it a "special" inference rule. This rule arises from a theorem in Propositional Logic, called the Deduction Theorem. Deduction Theorem If from a set of wffs  we can derive q from p1, p2,  pn, then we can derive (pn  q) from p1, p2,  pn-1 and . We use the standard notation p1, p2 Deduction Theorem says that if p1, p2 q to say that q is derived from p1 and p2. The q, then p1  (p2  q).

Deduction Theorem justifies the technique known as the Rule of Conditional Proof (CP). To prove that q  r in a line of proof, we temporarily introduce the premise q and if now we can prove r, then by the Deduction Theorem we have proved q  r and the assumption q may be discharged from further use in the remaining portion of the proof. It is called Conditional Proof, because we have not proved the truth of r; we have only proved that if q is true then r is true. r is shown to be true provided that q is true. That is, r is true on the condition that q is true. Direct Proof Every direct deductive proof has this form: Assume as true a premise p and then establish p  q so that, by Modus Ponens, q would be true. The work in this proof then is in establishing p  q, which often requires many steps: p  q1  q2   qn  q. By the rule

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For instance. one can similarly prove that gcd(b.r).r).r). which means c|r. But c|b. we get r = (n-mq)c.Z). Since any common divisor of b and r can not exceed gcd(b.r)? Well. Indirect proof by Contraposition The contrapositive or counterpositive of p  q is ~q  ~p. and since p is the premise and hence assumed as true.r) ≤ gcd(a. The conclusion is gcd(a. which is the principle behind the Euclidean Algorithm. we used the rule that (X  Y). So you see. Indirect proofs can take three forms. if we can show that any common divisor of a and b is also a common divisor of b and r. (gcd(a. we get a = nc.) Establishing p  q in situations where q is a statement that holds for all natural numbers greater than or equal to a specific natural number is often accomplished by a method called Mathematical Induction (MI).b). Incidentally. So when ~q  ~p is established. gcd(4.of Hypothetical Syllogism. Then we went from step to step using rules of arithmetic and logic. It is sufficient to show that any common divisor of a and b is a common divisor of b and r.) Here the premise is this: a and b are integers with b  0 and q and r are non-negative integers such that a = bq + r. QED (Notice that the first three steps in the proof constitute a setting up of the proof. axioms. then p  q.b) means the greatest common divisor of a and b. definitions. to establish p  q. That would mean gcd(a. Given: a and b are integers with b  0 and q and r are non-negative integers such that a = bq + r. So the proof goes like this. we get b = mc. This is proof by contrapositive. Hence c is a common divisor of b and r. In the fourth step we have the premise of the proof. That is. Example: If a and b are integers with b  0 and q and r are non-negative integers such that a = bq + r. Indirect Proof An Indirect Proof is so called because. From c|a.6) = 2. ~q  ~p is true.b) ≤ gcd(b. First we set up the problem. a proof of a theorem in a branch of mathematics uses the rules. 1. From c|b. if p divides n2 then p divides n. A direct proof with many steps is like crossing a stream by stepping on steppable protuberances in the water. in it.b) = gcd(b. A truth table will show that (p  q)  (~q  ~p). To show: gcd(a. In the last step. what do we need to show to establish gcd(a. and theorems of that branch of mathematics along with the rules of Logic. whenever p  q is true.(X  Z)  (X  Y. Let c be a common divisor of a and b.r). We ask. p  q is established.b) ≤ gcd(b. Example: For any prime p. then gcd(a. for some integer n. MI is a direct proof method. we will be done. Then from r = a-bq. 6 .b) ≤ gcd(b.b) ≤ gcd(b. So why use a contrapositive proof when it is equivalent to proving p  q? The reason is that in some instances. ~q may contain more information than p and it might be easier to establish ~p from ~q than q from p. then the largest (greatest) common divisor of a and b will be a common divisor of b and r.r). q would be true by Modus Ponens. for some integer m. Direct Proof is the preferred method of nonconstructive proof. we start with ~q.

below. Conditional Proof] [RAA step] [Deduction Theorem.or a variation of it. and hence n2 is not divisible by p. you can readily see that not every Reductio Ad Absurdum proof is a Proof by Contradiction of the premise. However. we have proved ~(p  q)  ~p which is the counterpositive of p  (p  q). But r < p implies r2 < p2. So if r2 = bp. This means the negation of p  q is (p  ~q). bp is not a perfect square. by Modus ponens.6] [T] [MP. Note that p as well as ~p is a contradiction too. 0 < r' < p. but it is not necessary to arrive now at ~p.~q (C  ~C) (4) p  (~q  (C  ~C) (5) ~q  (C  ~C) (~q  (C  ~C))  (~(C  (6) ~C)  q) (7) ~(C  ~ C)  q (8) ~(C  ~C) (9) q (10) p  q [Premise] [Premise. This theorem also justifies the Indirect Proof by Reductio Absurdum and hence also the Proof by Contradiction of the. we would have to invoke the Fundamental Theorem of Arithmetic . 1. by De Morgan Rule.9] 6 . We recommend that a Proof by Contradiction be one that begins with p and ~q and ends up obtaining ~p. 2. 3. 5.every positive integer is a unique product of prime powers . The steps are explained after the proof. Since p does not divide n. But ~(~p  q)  (p  ~q). for any integer b. meaning reduction to the absurd. arriving at any contradiction will suffice.since (p  ~p) is a contradiction.4] [T] [MP. if p does not divide n then p does not divide n2. 7.q such that p and ~q together imply a contradiction. n = pt + r. p  q. So r2  bp. then p  q. So. b < p. 3] [MP.8] [Deduction Theorem. and that a Reductio Ad Absurdum Proof be one that ends up obtaining any contradiction of a known truth. to assume p and ~q (as true) is to assume ~(p  q). But if b < p. This is why many mathematicians often call a Proof by Contradiction (of the premise) a Reductio Ad Absurdum proof. Then n2 = p(pt2 + 2tr) + r2. Here is a formal proof that RAA is a theorem in Propositional Logic.Proof: The contrapositive is. we again start with p and ~q. below . This is the RAA Theorem. Then n2 = b'p + r'. for some integer t and r and 0 < r < p. for some b. Another way to see this is to note that (p  q)  (~p  q).see elsewhere.. (1) (2) (3) p ~q p. So the proof by contrapositive was the better choice here. So if assuming p and ~q generates ~p. QED If we tried a direct proof. This follows from the RAA Theorem . then we conclude that p  q. So. This means r2 = bp + r' for some b and r'. Indirect Proof by Reductio Ad Absurdum (RAA) In Reductio Ad Absurdum. So. But p is a premise. Indirect Proof by Contradiction (of the premise) If p and ~q together generate ~p. Theorem (RAA): Suppose p.1. Proof by Contradiction (of the premise) is a Reductio Ad Absurdum Proof.

(Note that we have here established RAA as a theorem in Propositional Logic. Step (8) is a tautology (T). Here are situations where RAA is usually the weapon of choice: ● ● ● ● If the conclusion is hard to manipulate or understand. Proof.) RAA is the most popular method of proof. In the first case we can add the two equations to get x = 1 and y = 0.y). Step (5) uses Modus Ponens (MP) on steps 1 and 4. QED (Note: A similar. There are no positive integer solutions to the equation x2 .ym = 1. we can factor the left side: x2 .y2 = 1 for positive integers x and y. The solution is: 32 . A discharged premise can no longer be regarded as a premise even if it reappears in the antecedent in a later step. it follows that either x-y = 1 and x+y = 1 or x-y = -1 and x+y = -1.y2 = (x-y) (x+y) = 1. If you need to prove the converse of an already proved theorem. By RAA. Step (3) obtains a contradiction using also p . Eugene Catalan of Catalan Numbers fame asked if this would be true of the equation xn . y) where x and y are positive integers. The description in square brackets in the right column gives the reasoning used to obtain the entry in the middle column. The question remained unanswered for 150 years until the solution in 2002 by Preda Mihailescu. If this is the case. In Proof by Contrapositive we start just with ~q and deduce ~q  ~p. If the conclusion is the negation of some other statement." Our proof for Propositional Logic will serve to just validate the general notion of the proof by contradiction. ~q jumps from being in the antecedent of the conditional in the previous step to the consequent part in the current step. The answer is there is just one such (n. Since x and y are integers.n.y. The general Deduction Theorem is the following: "If  is a collection of formulas with no free variables. Example: Theorem. then  q. In step (2) we have used the Rule of Conditional Proof to introduce a new premise ~q. from p and ~q. where x. Step (10) says that having established q in step 8. The second case is similar.y) wth the property. (A  B)  (~B  A) is a tautology. This means ~q is no longer a premise. we can derive ~q  X from p alone. there is no solution (x. ) Comparing RAA with Proof by Contrapositive In both we deduce ~q  ~p. Step (4) uses the Deduction Theorem that if we can derive something.The numbers in parentheses in the left column denote the numerical order of the steps. but its negation provides more information or material with which to work. contradicting our assumption that x and y are positive. That is. with p as the only remaining premise ( step 1). Step (9) is clear. That is. Now with ~q having been discharged from being a premise. we have p  q.this is explained as the RAA step. and m are positive integers and n  m. (Proof by Contradiction. argument will show that xn .~q C  ~C. getting x = -1 and y = 0. In step (1) we assume p as premise. but more complex. there is a proof of . 6 .m. say X. again contradicting our assumption.y.) Assume to the contrary that there is a solution (x. only p remains as a premise. Step (7) is clear. It is said to be 'discharged' from being a premise. A proof of RAA in the more general setting including Predicate Logic would be necessary to handle all instances in mathematics. and n. and for some formula C. Step (6) is the tautology (T) arising from the equivalence of the conditional of step (5) and its contrapositive. being the negation of a contradiction.23 = 1. At this point an unusual thing happens. and if that proof contains no applications of generalization to variables that occur free in q.yn = 1 has no solutions for positive integers x. If you need to show that there is at most one of something with a given property.x.

Thus we have proved the contrapositive of p  q.~q contradiction ~q  (p  (4) contradiction) (5) p  contradiction (6) ~p  contradiction (7) ~p (8) ~q  ~p [Premise] [Premise. it might be better to say 'indirect proof by contradiction' or 'indirect proof by contrapositive' as the case may be. and since the result is ~p. we use the Rule of Conditional Proof to discharge the introduced premise p and obtain (p  contradiction) from just ~q. Although RAA proofs are often easier and more convenient. This assumption is known as the Law of Excluded Middle. then ~q  ~p. Rule of Material Implication] [6.7] In step (4). if you insist on mentioning 'indirect'. Not all logicians accept this. or just 'proof by contradiction' or 'proof by contrapositive.p is discharged as premise] [1. While it is not incorrect to call an RAA proof as an indirect proof. Since both RAA and proof by contrapositive are indirect proofs. the other has to be true. the introduced premise p having been discharged in step (4) the only remaining assumption is ~q. The Rule of Conditional Proof says that if in a line of proof we introduce a new premise A and we obtain B. then we can infer (A  B) and discharge A as premise. a statement C and its negation can not be simultaneously true. (1) ~q (2) p (3) p. we have proved that ~q  ~p. Proof. Step (7) uses Disjunctive Syllogism which states that for a disjunction to be true when one disjunct is false. RAA uses both ~q and p as premises and thus has more information to work with as compared to proof by contrapositive where we only have the information in ~q to work with.Proposition: In RAA we start with ~q and p and deduce that ~q  ~p.4 Modus Ponens] [5. a direct proof is preferred for the reason that RAA depends for its validity on the assumption that (C  ~ C) is always false. 6 . We use the Rule to show that if two statements p and ~q give a contradiction. Step (8) says that. That is. a few are proofs by contradiction. it is clearer to the reader of the proof not to mention RAA as just an indirect proof. Step (6) uses the alternate way of writing a Material Implication as a disjunction (see inference rules).' Among the great proofs we have presented elsewhere on these page. Disjunctive Syllogism] [1. RAA is more efficient than proof by contrapositive because in trying to establish ~q  ~p. Conditional Proof] [RAA step] [Conditional Proof .

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